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It is not widely known that there are several commonalities between respiratory and immunologic-driven diseases, including the impact they have on people’s everyday lives. Nearly 550 million people worldwide live with a respiratory disease like asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).1 Severe, uncontrolled asthma and COPD are debilitating, with patients experiencing exacerbations, significant limitations on lung function and a reduced quality of life. In the US alone, there are more than 25 million people with asthma, and for the 10 percent of those suffering from severe asthma, an increased risk of mortality. There are also 6.4 million Americans living with COPD, which is the fourth leading cause of death in the US.234

As with uncontrolled asthma and COPD, uncontrolled lupus compromises the quality of life for those living with this autoimmune disease. Lupus is highly complex and can affect any organ in the body, resulting in the body’s immune system attacking healthy tissue. It impacts more than 300,000 Americans, and is two-to-three times more prevalent in women of color.5 Living with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) — the most common form of the disease — can be unpredictable and manifest in a variety of different symptoms such as skin rash, arthritis, and fatigue.6 The unpredictable nature of lupus results in unique experiences for each patient, but also difficulty in diagnosing, treating, and managing the condition, leading to healthcare costs that can average over $68,000 a year for a severe lupus patient.7

While we’re learning more about the triggers of asthma, COPD, lupus, and related respiratory and immunologic-driven diseases, there is an urgency to find breakthrough solutions for those living with these chronic diseases. 

What science can do to accelerate therapeutic options for patients

At AstraZeneca, we push the boundaries of science to deliver life-changing medicines. As the world continues to adjust to a new paradigm, and with the long-term impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic still unclear, it is essential that healthcare and biopharmaceutical companies see patients as people first and keep them at the center of our work.

Our focus is unwavering. While others have pulled back in the Respiratory & Immunology (R&I) space, AstraZeneca has leaned in. Our research drives the latest understanding of specialized T cells and cytokines, including genetic targets like IL-33. In R&I, we follow the science to further uncover and target the drivers of disease areas ranging from pulmonology, rheumatology, dermatology, gastrointestinal diseases, and inflammatory diseases driven by eosinophilic immune dysfunction. To improve patient outcomes, we’re looking to evolve from pure symptom control to disease modification and remission, and possibly one day cure — words that are not often used in relation to asthma, lupus, COPD, or similar conditions. 

Breakthroughs and setting the stage for future innovation

Applying our deep knowledge of the common pathways and underlying disease drivers in respiratory to increase our expertise in immunology is essential. With our recent launches coupled with several new therapies in development, we will have launched 10 new therapies or indications by 2025 to help an estimated 10 million patients annually. In the nearer term, we are concentrating on several scientific readouts, regulatory advancements, and partnerships with patient advocates to have a meaningful impact on patients lives.  

Building on our 50-year heritage in respiratory care, we aim to revolutionize asthma by driving earlier, biology-led treatments to help eliminate preventable attacks and reduce hospitalizations. We continue to establish our anti-inflammatory treatments as the backbone of care across all severities. Our research pushes the boundaries of disease control in uncontrolled asthma by combining precision medicines with new delivery modalities. This includes significant advancements in rescue therapy – the first since 1972. Beyond asthma, we’re focused on transforming COPD, eliminating it as a leading cause of death.

Throughout our work in respiratory, we’ve relentlessly followed the science. This has helped us to understand the role the immune system plays in conditions such as asthma and other immunologic-driven diseases like lupus. In fact, we followed our own scientific innovation and research from other clinical programs in lupus to develop a new therapy that targets an underlying driver of SLE. We are also pursuing programs in cutaneous lupus erythematosus, lupus nephritis, and myositis, and targeting diseases in gastroenterology, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, where inflammatory processes play a role. Beyond lupus, we’re looking to further disrupt immunology by becoming an essential player in vaccines and immune therapies in support of public health, flu prevention, and Covid-19 protection for those who are immunocompromised.

We are committed to positively impacting more patients earlier in their disease and with precision interventions. Learn more about how we’re continuing to innovate to accelerate the trajectory of respiratory and immunology to improve patient outcomes, helping them to live up to what’s clinically possible, and make a difference for millions of people.

About the Author

Elizabeth (Liz) leads the US marketing, sales and access strategy for AstraZeneca’s Respiratory & Immunology therapy area and is a member of the US Leadership Team. To learn more, click here. BUSINESS USE


1 AstraZeneca Annual Report and Form 20-F Information 2021. Disease Area Review BioPharmaceuticals, Respiratory & Immunology. Available at:
2 American Lung Association. COPD Prevalence. Available at: Last accessed: May 2022.
3 American Lung Association. COPD Mortality. Available at: Last accessed: May 2022.
4 Asthma and Allergy Foundation. Asthma Overview. Available at: Last accessed: May 2022.
5 Lupus Foundation of America. Lupus facts and statistics. Available at: Last accessed: April 2022.
6 AstraZeneca. Living with Lupus: The Unique, Unpredictable Journey. Available at:–the-unique–unpredictable-journey-08032021.html. Last accessed: April 2022.
7 Lupus Foundation of America. Healthcare Costs Rise as Lupus Disease Activity Increases. Available at: Last accessed: April 2022.